Ask LH: Is This Dirt-Cheap Russian Music Store Legitimate?

Hi Lifehacker, I have been trying to find some cheaper alternatives to the iTunes store for purchasing electronic music legally. I came across LegalSounds. They seem to be selling tracks at $0.09 and albums for $1.99. In their copyright statement they mention that they pay royalties to artists according to Russian laws. However, I wanted to find out if it is actually legal for me to download tracks from this site in Australia? It does sound too good to be true! Thanks, Careful Cheapskate

Dear CC,

I'm no expert on Russian copyright law, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that the site you're talking about clearly isn't legitimate and you shouldn't use it. Here's the evidence:

It's selling material which isn't available digitally anywhere else. For instance, AC/DC are one of the biggest holdouts in releasing music in digital format, but all of their albums are on LegalSounds. Even if the site wanted to argue the rights to the earlier albums had been acquired through existing distribution deals in Russia, that's exceedingly unlikely to have been the case with the most recent album, Black Ice, which AC/DC controls all the licensing for. The site is also selling audio-only versions of content which is only being released as part of a DVD pack (such as Adele's recent Royal Albert Hall concert release). My conclusion? The music hasn't been licensed at all, instead taking advantage of the unclear status of digital downloads under Russian law.

It doesn't appear to pay royalties. While the question suggests that the site "pays royalties" under Russian law, what the site actually says is that it pays "license fees" for the material. There's no suggestion that artists are paid royalties directly, and frankly I'd be amazed if they were.

That makes it risky to give them your details. Would you really want to share your credit card information with a site whose content and legal status is questionable? If they're happy to rip off artists, why wouldn't they be happy to rip you off as well?

The Australian legal position in terms of using the site is cloudier. Arguably, knowingly purchasing content that hasn't been legally acquired might be viewed as a crime. That said, the odds of your being prosecuted would seem small, especially given the low amounts involved.

But you should be avoiding this site anyway because it obviously isn't paying anything like a fair rate to artists for their work, in the unlikely event it's paying anything at all. As we've pointed out before, music is actually cheaper in Australia than it was two decades ago, and if you don't want to pay, artist sites and YouTube and radio give you a lot of other options. So stay away from LegalSounds.

Cheers Lifehacker

Lifehacker's weekly Streaming column looks at how technology is keeping us entertained. Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact tab on the right.


Comments

    First rule of internet shopping:

    If it appears to good to be true, it probably isn't.

      It probably is, actually...

    2005 called, they wan their question back.

      Actually, I just read the LH "Answer" and well...it's completely wrong (as usual?).

      These Russian sites are completely legal under Russian law. Under their laws ALL transmission of music over the internet is classed as "streaming" regardless of if the user saves the file or just streams it.

      As such, these sites are only required to pay a (very) small "streaming" licensing fee to the Russian equivalent of the ARIA. This group is then suppose to pass on a a percentage to artists. However, the majority (of US) recording labels refuse to accept money from this group. So the artists' not receiving payments from these sites is actually the choice of Record Labels, not sites owners'.

      So...is it legal? Under Russian law yes, and that's where the transaction is occurring. Is it ethical? Well that's up to an individual to decide.

      Seriously, LH, put more effort into your articles. It's just getting ridiculous.

        So in suggesting that royalties don't get paid to artists, that it's clearly unethical to use the site, and that it features material that clearly hasn't been licensed (for any digital use, let alone streaming) the article was wrong how exactly?

        Seriously Corey, put more effort into your trolling.

          The Russian law in question treats Internet transmissions the same as radio transmissions. Royalties are paid to the relevant government body.

          The article is wrong as it claims the site is illegal. Doesn't matter if you think it's not ethical, not fair or whatever. The fact is, under Russian law it is legal.

            What I've said is that the site isn't legitimate. I'd want very specific evidence of how material that hasn't been licensed anywhere for digital distribution (e.g. the AC/DC material) was legal under Russian law.

              Re: website legality.... probably not, even under russian law.

              http://www.kommersant.com/page.asp?id=701606

              "Experts estimate that 97 percent of music spread in Russian Internet now is still piratic, and many mp3 websites sell western music to western customers. Legal Internet market is estimated at less than $1 million per year, while the turnover of just one of the major illegal Russian websites, offering some 850,000 of musical tracks for 12—15 cents, reaches up to $25—30 million, according to different estimates."

            Well since we're in Australia, I'm not certain that Russian law applies. In Dow Jones v Gutnick, the High Court held that the harm that sustains an action (in that case it was the tort of defamation) occurs where the material is read (or downloaded/listened to). The court was very clear in that case that foreign laws were not to supplant domestic laws simply because the server on which the content is located occurs overseas.

            So even if it's lawful in Russia, that is no guarantee that you won't be in violation of Australian law anyway. But as Angus said, you're not likely to be sued because of the small amounts of money involved. Regardless Corey, there's no need to be a dick.

        This was covered off years ago with allofmp3.com. These sites pay the equivalent to APRA a royalty per song "transmitted". Legally dubious, seems to go unpunished in Russia which suggests it's either legal or in too much or a grey area to really question.

        Oh and WTF is with the font used in these comment forms????? This is IMPOSSIBLE to read!

          http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4328269.stm

          "But the IFPI said the site was 'unlicensed to distribute our members' repertoire inside Russia and in all major markets'."...
          ...however...
          'According to Tass, prosecutors had decided not to pursue with legal action because Russian copyright laws only cover physical media such as CDs or DVDs and not digital files such as MP3s.'

            Which, again, doesn't demonstrate licensing for specific works, or legitimacy outside Russia.

            Ultimately, the question is "Should I use the site?" and Lifehacker's answer is a firm "no".

            Which, again, doesn't demonstrate licensing for specific works (rather the reverse), or legitimacy outside Russia.

            Ultimately, the question is "Should I use the site?" and Lifehacker's answer is a firm "no".

            Which, again, doesn't demonstrate licensing for specific works (rather the reverse), or legitimacy outside Russia. Russia's apparent lack of copyright law doesn't mean the entire concept becomes irrelevant.

            Ultimately, the question is "Should I use the site?" and Lifehacker's answer is a firm "no".

    I think you mean "a fair rate to artists".

    Why not just use a "Gift Card" Credit Card. Just charge it up with $20 and go nuts anonymously.

      that wouldn't guarantee anonymity any more than downloading things for free does.

        credit card anonymity.

      If you're willing to use this site, which clearly isn't compensating artists, why not just use bittorrent and save your money?

        Yeah I've never understood that myself. Why pay some trifling sum to Russian mobs and put your credit card and identity at risk when you can get it for free and at the same end result to the artist?

    Considering how broken and unfair copyright laws are to consumers in Australia (for example I can't legally copy my BluRay video to my phone), I have no qualms about shopping in a country with more liberal copyright laws.

    you can use the users though
    if you review legalsounds and post it to a blog somewhere, they give you $10 credit

    they tell you how to do it, on their site

    wle

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